Christmas in Vietnam

By John L. Meisenbach

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    Each year I feel the Christmas spirit in our home as we get out the Nativity scene and the other traditional decorations. And always, when we place the Christmas angel in her usual spot, I remember something that happened halfway around the world.

    It’s 22 December 1970. I am in the jungle near the village of Song Be, South Vietnam. We can hear the supply helicopters coming. We prepare the landing zone for them and wait to receive supplies: food, water, ammunition, and, most important, letters and packages from home.

    I make sure the men under my command have received their rations and have all their mail and packages. Then I take some time to read my own letters. My mind wanders, and many things trouble me as I read the letters—some of them mailed over four weeks ago. I’ve been in Vietnam for 335 days, most of them spent in combat. I feel calloused and frustrated with life. Here it is—three days before Christmas—and the one thing I’m thinking of is that I have only twenty-nine days left until my assignment ends and I’m on my way home. I hope my last combat missions will go well, that I’ll be able to leave my responsibilities and my men well, and that the officer replacing me will be the best one they could receive.

    I have no thoughts of Christmas or of my Savior’s birth until I open the package with the beautiful white angel inside. She’s about twelve inches tall, is dressed in white clothes, has golden hair, and stands on a music box. I put her on top of an overturned ammunition can and begin to read the letter from my dear mother.

    In her own words, she tells me the story of the birth of our Savior and bears a quiet, sweet testimony. I feel myself being lifted spiritually. My mother told me the Christmas story over and over when I was a child, but never did I feel the Spirit of Christ so close before.

    I glance up from the letter and notice some of my men looking at the white angel. I wind up the music box, and no one says a word as the sound of “Silent Night” fills the air and the Christmas angel brings special emotions out in each one of us. Some tears are shed and feelings exchanged as the Spirit of Christ touches each one of us.

    Later, as I pack and prepare to move out, I wrap the angel carefully and place her in my backpack. I think of home, family, and loved ones. But most of all, I think of Jesus and all that he has done for me.

    Photography by Craig Dimond